Firefighters from Around Oregon Come to Help

So many offers of support from fire agencies statewide came flowing in to Bay Area firefighters Tuesday that the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association has coordinated a voluntary weeklong response while area firefighters recover from a deadly blaze that killed three of their own.

A dozen Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue volunteers already are staffing Coos Bay's three fire stations and crews from Siuslaw Rural Fire District and Douglas County Fire District No. 2 also arrived Monday night to help relieve local firefighters and provide additional coverage.

In addition, fire crews with Medford, Clackamas County, Klamath Falls, Portland, Jackson County, Ashland, Roseburg, Eugene, Springfield, Grants Pass and Rogue River also are scheduled to take over shifts through Dec. 3.

"We're trying to create a situation where firefighters don't have to come cover their shifts," said Tim Birr, a division chief with Tualatin, who is directing communications for the Coos Bay response team.

Birr said Coos Bay remains in control of its fire operations and that a local firefighter would be with volunteer crews to steer directions but added that help was being provided to bring relief to weary and grieving firefighters that otherwise would have been on duty Thanksgiving Day.

Many are in mourning after a Monday afternoon fire at the Farwest Truck & Auto Supply store in downtown Coos Bay killed volunteer firefighters Jeffery E. Common, 30; R. Chuck Hanners, 33; and Lt. Randall E Carpenter, 46. Counselors are being offered from Coos County Mental Health for firefighters as well as the Coos Bay School District, where 11 children of the department's dead attended school.

"Our objectives are to help families of our fallen comrades, to assist the firefighters who are here and to assist the community," said Fire Chief Stan Gibson.

Coos Bay Police Chief Chuck Knight said his agency is backing off to a supportive role. In the immediacy of the fire, officers were stationed at nearly every intersection in downtown to divert traffic and provide support while power was cut off. Knight said that officers would continue to help the state in its investigation of the fire's cause.

Coos Bay requested the state lead the investigation into the blaze. It is being directed by two deputies of the Office of the State Fire Marshal and two members of the Oregon State Police Arson Unit. Also assisting the lead investigators will be the Major Incident Team. Called out Monday by the Coos County District Attorney's Office to begin an interagency investigation of the blaze, the team comprises members of local law enforcement.

On Tuesday, State Fire Marshal Robert Garrison declined to speculate on how the blaze began but echoed comments made by Gibson the night of the fire.

"It's too soon for us to appreciate what the cause of this fire may be," he said, "but every indication is that this was an accidental fire with tragic results."

Coos Bay firefighters responded to a general alarm at about 2 p.m. Monday at 320 South Second St. Gibson said that what initially appeared to be a manageable fire with only smoke showing turned into a blaze that engulfed the building when firefighters on a mezzanine level of the building attempted to tear down the ceiling to attack the blaze. Initial investigation revealed oxygen may have fanned trapped gases that heated and flashed the building's ceiling.

An evacuation order may already have been issued when firefighters walking on a rooftop that had become spongy from heat realized the fire was trapped inside a void between the second floor's ceiling and the roof. Gibson said Monday the investigation will determine why the men didn't evacuate. However, the eventual combustion led to the roof's collapse, which trapped the men.

Initial indications that four firefighters were among the group that was in the mezzanine when the roof collapsed were confronted with discrepancies and Gibson said an investigation of who was on the second story is being reconsidered.

Voicing the city's support for the grieving department and families of the dead firefighters Mayor Joe Benetti said a Coos Bay Firefighters' memorial trust fund has been established at US Bank for the families of the three firefighters. (Coos Bay Firefighters Memorial Fund: US Bank Account No. 153654447124.)

"It's a tragedy to this community," Benetti said. "This community is very close knit."

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